This year’s NCAA Tournament has been full of drama, upsets, and paper shreds as brackets are torn up across the country. I think I could have done better picking games based on a coin flip. I think I’ll do that. Once this tournament is over, I’ll compare my bracket to a coin flip bracket. I’ll bet the coin flip one holds its own. Not like that will be hard to do…
The talk around college basketball for the last month or so has been tournament expansion. Coaches have come out either in support of or against it with their reasons why. Before I offer my conspiracy theory, I’ll give my take on expansion.
One of the arguments for expansion is the number of teams in Division 1 basketball is on the rise. Currently, there are 347 teams eligible for the 65 tournament slots. 31 bids go to automatic qualifiers, usually conference tournament winners (except in the case of the Ivy League, which does not put on a conference tournament. The regular season champion, Cornell this year, gets their automatic bid). The other 34 bids go to teams that the selection committee deems worthy of at-large selection.
Quick math tells us that about 18% of the teams make the NCAA Tournament. Compare that to NCAA Football, where there are about 120 Division 1 teams. There’s 34 bowl games, which means 68 teams make the postseason. That’s just over 50%.
Some think that the tournament should expand to keep up with the growing number of Division 1 teams. I don’t think they want to expand to football-like numbers (percentage-wise). I think the real reason coaches want to expand the tournament is job security. It’s no secret that to stick around in this game, you must win. Making the tournament is considered a major accomplishment, especially at the smaller schools like Butler, Siena, and St. Mary’s. Coaches like Roy Williams at North Carolina can’t afford to miss the tournament. OK, maybe using Williams is a bad example because he’s won two national titles since he’s been there, but you get the gist of it.
Expanding to as many as 96 teams, in my opinion, would water down the tournament. It’s just too much. 96 teams means they play 95 games in a short amount of time, probably four weeks (now they play 64 games over about three weeks). It’s not that I don’t like the fact that there would be extra basketball, but to tell you the truth, I got a little burnt out on basketball after the first two rounds. Maybe I was just exhausted from the intensity of all the close games, because even though I wasn’t playing or even at the arena, I was on the edge of my seat.
Another reason for expansion is the bubble teams that get left out. Well, I’ll tell you what, even if they expand to 96, there will still be a team 97.
Even if expansion is inevitable, there’s a better way to do it than expanding to 96. I can’t take credit for this idea, but I like it.
Make it a 68-team field, with four play-in games. The way the play-in game is now, I think is unfair. It involves two small schools for the right to play one of the number one seeds. It’s unfair because the schools have earned the right to be in the tournament already. They shouldn’t have to play for it.
I would have eight bubble teams play for their ticket to the dance. The winners would be seeded ninth or tenth, and we go from there. We get the best of both worlds then. There is no doubt about who should be in or out, and whoever televises the games will get (better) ratings.
Now for my conspiracy theory. The NCAA can opt out of its contract with CBS after this year’s tournament. Many think this is a foregone conclusion, and it’s a signal that expansion is coming, no matter what. The NCAA can then either re-negotiate with CBS, or offer the rights to someone completely different.
Considering CBS paid $6 billion for their current broadcast rights, the dollar amount will be almost certain to go up, especially if they expand. Think about that for a minute. Think about how big the NCAA Tournament is. That’s one dollar for every person in the world. Insane.
I’m not saying this definitely happened, or was even thought about, but in today’s money-driven world, I wouldn’t put this past anyone.
They say that one of the reasons for expansion is parity. Lots of upsets. Traditional powerhouses (ie Kansas) getting beaten by mid-majors. Because of parity, they should include more teams so more upsets happen.
Maybe, just maybe, the NCAA nudged the selection committee to do what they could to ensure some upsets. Underseed some teams, and overseed others. Take Villanova for example. They were fighting for a number one seed for most of the season, but they faltered at the end. They were a two seed, and fell in the second round after barely beating their first round opponent.
Washington, St. Mary’s, Northern Iowa and Cornell were all seeded nine or worse, yet all four made the Sweet 16. Ohio beat Georgetown, Washington beat New Mexico, and Murray State beat Vanderbilt. All of these were upsets that not a ton of people saw coming. The biggest upset of all was probably when Northern Iowa knocked off Kansas in the second round.
I think it’s feasible, though not necessarily probable or even remotely likely, that the NCAA set this up to lobby for expansion. I mean, their endgame is profit right? How do they make more profit? Expand the tournament so broadcast rights are more expensive.
Like I said, I’m not actually making accusations here, but I’m not putting it past the NCAA either.